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House Ethics Ends Countrywide Loan Probe

The House Ethics Committee on Thursday announced that it had ended its probe of whether lawmakers got preferential loan treatment by participating in the VIP program at Countrywide Financial Corp., concluding it did not have jurisdiction over any alleged violations that occurred.

The committee reached “largely the same conclusion” that its companion panel in the Senate did, said a statement from Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif.

“While there are no allegations of violations that fall within the Committee’s jurisdiction, we take this opportunity to provide the House community and the public at large with an analysis of these allegations, and guidance that may be helpful in considering future conduct and avoiding even the appearance of impropriety,” the statement said.

Too much time has passed since the alleged violations occurred and many of those involved have left the House, the statement indicated.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this year issued a lengthy report on a now-defunct loan program named for former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo that offered loan discounts to lawmakers. Since Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., began investigating the matter in 2008, Reps. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.; Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.; and Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y.; as well as Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and former Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., were among the those linked to the “Friends of Angelo” program. Issa’s report was among the information reviewed by the Ethics Committee. Bank of America later bought Countrywide.

The Senate Ethics Committee in August 2009 concluded that there was “no credible evidence” that Conrad and Dodd had knowingly participated in the special loan program. The House Ethics Committee on Thursday did not reference any members by name except Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who reportedly received a Countrywide loan but asked that the discount not be applied.

“While the steps reportedly taken by Representative Pete Sessions, rejecting any offers of negotiated discount, are an excellent way to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, there is still no requirement that a Member, officer, or employee refuse to participate in normal negotiations, or refuse to accept terms of negotiation regularly available to a member of the public,” the statement said.

The committee said it was most concerned not by the lawmakers who may or may not have participated unknowingly in the loan program but by House staffers who reached out to Countrywide lobbyists and government affairs representatives to secure preferential personal loans.

“Had any of these actions occurred within the Committee’s jurisdiction, further investigations would have been conducted that may have led to disciplinary action against these staffers or former staffers,” the statement cautioned.

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